The European Union said that over 100 million European PC users would be given the choice to switch web browsers in the coming months, a statistic it believes proves the validity of its years-long antitrust suit against Microsoft. This announcement comes in the wake of Microsoft's enabling of a so-called browser ballot screen in EU-based versions of Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
"Giving consumers the possibility to switch or try a browser other than that included in Windows will bring more competition and innovation in this important area," said EU competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia, apparently unaware that all PC users have had this ability all along.
After receiving a complaint from European browser maker also-ran Opera, EU regulators filed antitrust charges against the software giant and then reached a settlement in which Microsoft agreed to change its OS and add the browser ballot. Stung by billions of dollars in fines from other antitrust cases with the EU, Microsoft apparently felt it had no choice.
The "innovative" browser ballot screen presents itself to users only when they have chosen Microsoft's own Internet Explorer as their default browser, a little-reported bit that should give anyone actually concerned with choice pause. (Don't Firefox users need to be prodded to reassess their choices in life too?) It provides a random arrangement of the top five browser choices (despite the fact that only two browsers are regularly used) and a further seven less-well-known browsers--including some bizarre choices that virtually no one has ever heard of.
Oddly enough, Microsoft's algorithm for presenting the top five choices appears to be broken. And according to IBM blogger Rob Meir, that mistake means that Google's Chrome will appear as the first choice in the supposedly randomized list more than the other browsers. And Microsoft's own IE will appear first the least often. "This was a rookie mistake," he said.
Whatever the details, adding this ridiculous bit of UI to Windows retroactively has apparently had the desired effect of calming down over-zealous EU antitrust regulators. Now they can focus their attention on more obviously dangerous tech giants. I recommend Google, if anyone's asking.